Digital Media on the Rise

Mark J. Scarp

Recent developments in the U.S. media business have seen print continue its decline while digital media outlets continue to capture a greater share of the market for news media consumption and income.

In 2018, U.S. daily newspaper circulation fell 8% for weekday editions and 9% for Sunday papers.[1] The Pew Research Center said that meant weekday circulation dropped to 28.6 million while Sunday circulation fell to 30.8 million since 2017. Pew estimated U.S. digital weekday and Sunday circulation to be up 6% and 8%, respectively, over the same period.

More newspapers have recently cut back on staff and scope or even closed entirely, creating “news deserts” in some areas, where few to no sources of local news continue to exist. Meanwhile, digital media startups continue to emerge, with some established digital startups fading while others are on the rise.

One of the more notable recent small-market newspaper closures involved the 100,000-circulation The Vindicator newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio. The family that owned the paper since 1887 announced it would close in August 2019,[2] citing financial difficulties that at first had them unsuccessfully seeking a buyer.

Perhaps the most poignant recent newspaper closure was not really a closure, but a merger that resulted in the layoff of 65 staffers[3] of the Times-Picayune of New Orleans when the paper and the news website merged with the Advocate of nearby Baton Rouge, the Louisiana state capital. reported that of the 65 laid off, 19 said they intended to stay working in journalism in New Orleans, with 10 of those planning to work for the merged newspapers.

Starbucks, where for years millions of coffee drinkers could find print editions of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today as well as local papers at its more than 8,600 U.S. outlets announced in July that it will stop selling national and local newspapers starting in September, the Seattle Times reported.[4] The Times quoted a company spokeswoman who cited lower single-copy sales.

Upheaval was not merely visited on legacy outlets these past months. In a July 2, 2019, article by Jon Allsop titled “Another Brutal Week in American Journalism,” the Columbia Journalism Review said during the week prior to the article about 3,000 news industry employees were either offered buyouts or were laid off,[5] including workers at two among the most well-known names in digital media. Citing several sources, CJR described layoffs of hundreds of journalists at digital standards Vice and Buzzfeed as well as at several outlets owned by Verizon, Gannett, McClatchy and GateHouse, among others.

Mic Network Inc., another digital entity, survived but at a fraction of its former value. It was sold to Bustle Digital Group in November 2018 for $5 million,[6] far less than its valuation of $100 million only two years before.

For a legacy media company, acquiring a startup can be strategic–helping to expand their digital audience across platforms. Cable concern Altice USA purchased business news streaming service Cheddar for $200 million in April 2019 in an all-cash arrangement.[7]

Some startups have recently attracted well-known names not previously known for their affiliation with digital media. In January 2018, former Hewlett Packard CEO and onetime California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was appointed CEO of Hollywood movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg’s NewTV.[8] 

Emmy-nominated actress Sofia Vergara of ABC’s Modern Family joined Fox executive Emiliano Calemzuk and Luis Balaguer, her longtime business partner, in a venture called Raze,[9] “which they describe as a mobile platform for editorial and video content that will appeal largely to young Latin American audiences.”

And the industry continues to innovate and evolve. Old and new media found common ground as The Associated Press and Civil Media Company, a blockchain startup, became partners in a blockchain solution for tracking the flow of content enforcing licensing rights.[10] The arrangement enabled AP to license its content to the 14 newsrooms comprising the Civil network. quoted a statement by Civil that through the partnership it “hopes to promote ethical and high-quality journalism.” Indeed, digital startups could well carve out space in a marketplace that itself is becoming more digital, but it remains to be seen how many will thrive and how they will accomplish it.

Mark J. Scarp is a faculty associate at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he teaches a class called “The Business & Future of Journalism.”

  1. Pew Research Center, Journalism and Media, “Newspapers Fact Sheet 2018,”, July 9, 2019.
  2. Tom Jones, “Ohio Newspaper Announces It’s Closing After 150 Years,”, July 1, 2019.
  3. Samantha Sunne, “The Times-Picayune Was Absorbed by The Advocate in New Orleans Yesterday,”, July 1, 2019.
  4. Paul Roberts and Elise Takahama, “Starbucks stores to stop selling newspapers in the fall, Pointing to ‘Changing Customer Behavior,'” Seattle Times (, July 12, 2019.
  5. Jon Allsop, “Another Brutal Week in American Journalism,”, July 2, 2019.
  6. Benjamin Mullin, “Mic Network Sold to Bustle for About $5 Million,”, November 29, 2018.
  7. Ilyce Liffreing, “Altice USA Acquires Cheddar for $200 Million,”, April 30, 2019.
  8. Jonathan Vanian, “Meg Whitman Appointed CEO of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Mobile Media Startup NewTV,”, January 24, 2018.
  9. Natalie Jarvie, “Sofia Vergara Teams with TV Veteran for Digital Venture Raze,”, January 19, 2017.
  10. Staff, “Associated Press Joins Forces with Civil Media Company on Blockchain,”, August 29, 2018.


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Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Copyright © 2017 by Mark J. Scarp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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